Bonas Defeat-ed – 8-20-2016

At the North end of the Panthertown Valley deep into the Big Pisgah (North Carolina)  where few dare to tread due to the seriously rugged terrain, there is a 2 mile long, boulder filled, slot canyon/gorge called ‘Bonas Defeat’. Named after a significant 400 foot cliff within the gorge, the name ‘Bonas Defeat Wall’ interestingly enough comes from an old legend about a man`s dog named ‘Bonas’ who used to chase deer and such off the edge of this cliff. As the story goes, one day a deer outsmarted him and sidestepped causing the hunting dog to run straight off the cliff where he fell the 400 feet to his demise err, defeat.

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The Bonas Defeat Wall

Access is extremely limited to this canyon due to being surrounded by private property and there being no real trails in around or through it as it is just a matter of rock hopping and bouldering over huge rock formations that are sometimes very slick even with minimal water flowing through it. It has been said that “it is like walking through the barrel of a shotgun” ! Also be aware that there is a dam at the head of it (Tanasee Lake Dam) that during wet weather periods can release automatically causing a sunami of water to rage down the gorge at a rate that would be nearly impossible to survive.  One web page I found declares: <quote> “American Whitewater considered negotiating for recreational releases on the river, which drops 240 feet in under half a mile. After a non-boating test flow of the gorge, some of the best boaters in the state concluded the Bonas Defeat was “inordinately dangerous.” <unquote> I only carried my pocket cam on this trip and I did not take very many pictures and the ones I took are not of high quality so I will throw that out there now !

sunrise

Sunrise in JC town as we waited on John Forbes and some of the others to arrive

Due to the release of recent maps and information about the Panthertown and Bonas Defeat areas, there has been more traffic into the gorge but, it is very limited to only the most experienced canyoneers as the area purely protects itself by its sheer challenging terrain not to mention there being no trails and only bushwhacks through some steep terrain being required to get there. It is without a doubt some of the best canyoneering found anywhere in the East but, it is not for everybody. The local district ranger has never even been inside the gorge ! Also the USFS denies any requests for guide permits to the area as the terrain is just too severe. All that being said, you can see why I was so anxious to get in there and experience it from end to end for myself as I have seen several pictures of its awesomeness by a small group of friends that have already done it. After much waiting and planning the day finally came that my son Tyler and I were to get our wish granted however, mother Nature had something else in mind.

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Blue skies appearing on the early morning drive down to Panthertown.

Relying on the previous experiences of my fellow hiking friends Thomas ‘The Badger’ Mabry and John ‘The Gnome’ Forbes who would be leading this adventure, along with a small group of others, this trip was planned well in advance however, when the day finally arrived there was a slight chance of rain for the area but, it was a beautiful morning so we proceeded as planned. Keep in mind that ANY rain would make it way too slick and dangerous to complete the gorge as it is hard enough when the house sized rocks are dry. It had become a bit dark and cloudy by the time we arrived which was a concern as we made our way down the incredibly steep descent using a little known climbers route that would lead us down a shortcut to just above the Bonas Defeat Wall. It actually did not start sprinkling rain until we reached the bottom of the gorge and stepped out into the creek there.

fungus

Cool looking fungus found along the climbers trail

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Another angle of the fungus along the way down

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Looking back at the Badger as he leads the rest of the group down the final descent to the bottom of the gorge. I am actually standing creek side.

Just making it that far was quite the accomplishment as I looked up and down the gorge realizing that I had finally made it. Going downstream from there it was immediately obvious how rough the going would be and this was one of the easiest parts of it ! After only a few careful rock hops I could get my first view of the Bonas Defeat Wall. What a sight to behold ! Getting closer to it would require negotiating some of the largest rocks I have ever seen in a creek bed along with a cave-like crack we would have to get through and some serious bouldering to get down below the ‘Fish Face Rock’ which sits near the base of the wall. We instantly learned just how slick these rocks can be with a minimal amount of wetness on them and how easy it would be to slip and break all your teeth off at the gums ! This place is truly no joke.

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Looking upstream as soon as I had my feet reached the creek at the bottom of the gorge

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My first view of the Bonas Defeat Wall as John who now finds himself on familiar ground makes his way towards it.

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The Bonas Defeat Wall

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A happy gnome posing at the Bonas Defeat Wall !

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We had to climb over that large tree log to go under the wedged rock and through the massive cave-like crack to get down to the Fish Face Rock.

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John carefully makes his way to towards the top of Fish face Rock. As you can tell by his body posturing, the rocks were very slick.

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John looking small as he continues climbing up the massive Fish Face Rock from its backside

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My son Tyler checking out the area near the entrance to the crack

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Tyler provides the perfect scale to the size of things as he goes over the huge log and enters the crack

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My view of John as he makes his way through the crack

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John finds a nice dry spot deep within the confines of the crack. This underneath the large rock he was climbing on earlier to reach the top of the Fish Face Rock ! We all hung out here for a water and snack break while we waited on the rain to end.

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Our view of the Bonas Defeat Wall from the dry spot in the cave-like crack area as we could see the rain falling harder upon it

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Looking out at part of the creek from our dry spot under the monolithic sized rocks

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A wet Tyler hanging out in the crack area as we wait and hope the sun breaks out and dries the rocks up

I can`t say enough about the Fish Face Rock as it is massive and has a decent sized waterfall (Half Dome Falls)  flowing not only beside it but, also has one hidden deep inside a cave at its base (Hidden Cave Falls). Getting to it is difficult to say the least as it requires going through a series of large keyhole cracks or swimming across the splash pool of the visible falls. All well worth the effort of course and we explored every square inch of this area both on top and below the townhouse sized Fish Face Rock as we waited on the rain to end and prayed the sun would come out and start drying off the rocks so we could continue down the gorge to the exit point.

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Finally my first view of Fish Face Rock ! It looks more like a whale face rock to me !

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John and Badger taking it easy around the Fish Face Rock area

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Tyler exploring around the Fish Face Rock making our way closer to the falls

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I can not describe adequately how slick the rocks were due to the rain. Here Tyler is going back up to help the Badger get back up from the puckering perch he was precariously perched upon. Tyler had to go up that dark crack behind him to get up and down that rock face due to it being so slick.

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Tyler and The Badger hanging out on top of the rock after successfully getting back to the level part !

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Making my way over to Half Dome Falls that flows beside Fish Face Rock

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Tyler sharing his knowledge with the Badger about which rocks are slick as owl shit and what he found to be the safest route down this rocky obstacle

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Half Dome Falls

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Tyler giving scale to the rock sizes as I stand at the base of Half Dome Falls

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A little higher of that same shot you can see the Bonas Defeat wall behind Tyler

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If you look closely you can see John waving from just inside the cave below Fish Face Rock. Farther behind him in the darkness lies an underground waterfall called Hidden Cave Falls

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Looking down at John gnome posing from just inside the cave below Fish Face Rock

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John gnome poses beside Half Dome Falls the only moment the sun came out !

I made my way around the rocky obstacle course to the large keyhole type crack that leads over and down to the base of the Fish Face Rock so I could enter the cave for myself and see the Hidden Cave Falls. It is a most amazing place although I was not able to get any decent pics of the falls. It was quite the rush to be standing underneath a rock that weighs into the thousands of tons.

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Looking towards the large keyhole crack that access Fish Face Rock

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Using a flash inside the cave I attempted to make the cave and falls show up. Blurry as I did not use a tripod.

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Going back through the keyhole

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Same pic with more light

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Looking down the gorge from near Fish Face Rock you can see John gnome posing as he was trying his best to get us to head down stream. The sun did come out for a brief period which gave a false sense of security to that idea.

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A small gnome in a large world

Unfortunately it was not to be and just like the old dog Bonas, we too were defeated.  Only we would not be dying on this day and would live to come back again another day. Much to our dismay and despite John`s huge desire to continue on anyway, the wise old ‘Badger’ made the call to go back the way we had came as it was just too risky to be in the slot canyon during these weather conditions. Looking back it was a wise decision indeed as it never did dry up that day and it would not have been safe to continue on and although I am sure we could have made it out safely, it would have taken much longer and we would not have been able to enjoy the many things to see along the way. The worst part of this decision would be climbing back up the insanely steep goat trail back to where we started !

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Saying goodbye to Fish Face Rock

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John and Badger down in the canyon as dark gray clouds loom behind us (not seen here) as Badger makes his final decision to go or not to go

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A picture does not do justice to the size of these rocks that stand in our way between the Fish Face Rock and the trail we used to come down and go back on !!

We spent as much time as we could exploring around the areas of the wall and the FishFace Rock putting off the inevitable for as long as was possible then we began the arduous climb up the now slick and muddy climbers ninja trail. It was a hard route to follow and there were many deviations made as well as some bee stings to some of the others in the group before we would finally make it back to the top. Feeling defeated and exhausted after being up all night working without sleep , the long drive, and the killer climb out of the gorge, it was another one of those long ‘hard to stay awake’ drive home. I had to console myself with the fact that I had gotten to see the Bonas Defeat Wall / Canyon and that I would be coming back soon to complete the quest. Also the well known fact that any time spent in the wilds is far better than any time spent anywhere else ! Until next time ,,,

Posted on 11 October '17 by , under RATtreks.

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